Radon is a radioactive gas, which if inhaled and ingested for a long time, can cause lung cancer. This is known as radon poisoning. This article mainly dwells on the effects of this poisoning, its symptoms, and some preventive measures that can help reduce the exposure to this gas.
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas, with the chemical symbol Rn. It is mainly a product of radioactive decay or breakdown of uranium. Uranium can be found in soil and rocks, and when it breaks down, it releases a colorless and odorless radioactive gas, that is known as radon. This gas can easily get into the buildings or houses through small cracks and holes, and get trapped inside.
Over a period of time, it can accumulate inside a building due to the absence of proper ventilation. Sometimes, ground water or well water can also be an important source of radon, as this gas is soluble in water and some organic solvents. Radon poisoning mainly occurs, when this radioactive gas, which is considered a human carcinogen, is inhaled or ingested.
Effects of Poisoning
As has been mentioned already, radon is considered to be a carcinogen or cancer-causing agent. If inhaled for a prolonged period of time, it can cause lung cancer. Like other radioactive gases, it also decays and releases some tiny radioactive alpha particles. When we breath in such particles, they enter our body and cause extensive damage to the cells and tissues of the lungs. This can eventually result in lung cancer.
The long-term exposure to radon is one of the leading causes of lung cancer, especially in the United States.
It can cause cancer of the squamous cell, adenocarcinoma, and small and large cell carcinoma of the lungs. The chronic exposure to a high level of radon can cause respiratory problems, like emphysema, pulmonary fibrosis, and lesions in the lungs. This radioactive gas is also believed to have some adverse effects on the embryonic development, as well as on the genetic material of a cell, which may lead to chromosomal abnormalities.
Signs and Symptoms
The poisoning does not produce any warning signs in the early stage. The lungs can get damaged considerably by the time the symptoms of the poisoning appear. The typical symptoms of this poisoning resemble the symptoms of lung cancer, which include, chest pain, breathing difficulty or shortness of breath, wheezing, cough, and the presence of blood in the cough. It can also cause pneumonia.
The best way to prevent the exposure to this radioactive gas is to test your home and other areas for radon. Commercial test kits are available for this purpose, which can be of two types – short-term test kits and long-term kits. A short-term test kit includes a collector that needs to be placed in the lowest livable floor of a house for about 3 to 7 days, after which it is sent to the laboratory for analysis. The long-term kits, on the other hand, require radon levels to be measured for a year.
While testing for radon, it is important to note that the level of this radioactive gas in your house can vary from time to time. So, you may need to test at regular intervals. If the level of this gas in your house is found to be high, i.e., more than 4 pCi/L (picocuries per liter), then you should consider to take the help of a qualified professional. The level of radon in buildings and houses can be reduced by sealing all cracks, holes, and openings in the foundation, ensuring cross ventilation, and by including vent pipes and vapor retarders in buildings.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for professional medical advice.